Branch Out - A Podcast from Connection Builders

Leveraging Systems & Automations – Max Friar

June 03, 2021 Connection Builders Episode 45
Branch Out - A Podcast from Connection Builders
Leveraging Systems & Automations – Max Friar
Chapters
Branch Out - A Podcast from Connection Builders
Leveraging Systems & Automations – Max Friar
Jun 03, 2021 Episode 45
Connection Builders

Automated systems free your team up to focus on the best uses of their time, but these systems could not be developed if one did not take the time to reflect on how to improve. Today we invite Max Friar onto the show to speak about the reflections he made about his industry, how they allowed him to automate the mundane sides of his business, and the huge benefits this has offered. Max is the Managing Partner at Calder Capital, a full-service M&A firm focused on lower middle-market companies within the Midwest. Calder was successful in closing 40 transactions in 2020, and it was the most successful year the firm ever had, despite all of the challenges the pandemic presented. Max takes us through the various positions he occupied in the M&A industry and how he figured out how to solve different pain points using automation before starting Calder. He then gets into the weeds of exactly which parts of the business brokerage process he has automated using software and other systems. We talk about how these jobs, when done manually, are incredibly draining for business brokers, leading to burnout and poor service. The plus for Max is that since implementing his automation systems, his team does not struggle with these issues anymore, and this, in turn, has allowed him to scale and broaden the range of high-quality services he can now offer. We talk about what these are before wrapping our conversation up on the topic of reflection once more. Without these valuable moments of contemplation, Max would never have been able to scale his business and refine his services in the way he had. Tune in for all this and more today! 

 

Key Points From This Episode: 

  • Max's experience in M&A and how automation helped him scale Calder.
  • Automation processes Max put in place using software to vet potential buyers.
  • Three ways business brokers get burned out and how automation can help.
  • How Max's attitude about the value of rest for productive work has changed.
  • The way automation can free up staff for more key roles and treating clients better.
  • Attachment sellers have to their businesses and how important the right buyer is.
  • The need to market a business widely for finding the right buyer.
  • How much emotional bandwidth is needed to take a buyer through the selling process.
  • The role of reflection in helping Max come up with his automation systems.
  • Evolution in the business; prospecting for new sellers, data analytics, and more.
  • Max's ideas around whether a concrete business plan is necessary for success.

Max Friar on LinkedIn
Max Friar Email
Calder Capital
Infusionsoft
Alex Drost LinkedIn
Branch Out Podcast LinkedIn
Connection Builders LinkedIn

Have thoughts or comments? We want to hear from you. [email protected]

Show Notes Transcript

Automated systems free your team up to focus on the best uses of their time, but these systems could not be developed if one did not take the time to reflect on how to improve. Today we invite Max Friar onto the show to speak about the reflections he made about his industry, how they allowed him to automate the mundane sides of his business, and the huge benefits this has offered. Max is the Managing Partner at Calder Capital, a full-service M&A firm focused on lower middle-market companies within the Midwest. Calder was successful in closing 40 transactions in 2020, and it was the most successful year the firm ever had, despite all of the challenges the pandemic presented. Max takes us through the various positions he occupied in the M&A industry and how he figured out how to solve different pain points using automation before starting Calder. He then gets into the weeds of exactly which parts of the business brokerage process he has automated using software and other systems. We talk about how these jobs, when done manually, are incredibly draining for business brokers, leading to burnout and poor service. The plus for Max is that since implementing his automation systems, his team does not struggle with these issues anymore, and this, in turn, has allowed him to scale and broaden the range of high-quality services he can now offer. We talk about what these are before wrapping our conversation up on the topic of reflection once more. Without these valuable moments of contemplation, Max would never have been able to scale his business and refine his services in the way he had. Tune in for all this and more today! 

 

Key Points From This Episode: 

  • Max's experience in M&A and how automation helped him scale Calder.
  • Automation processes Max put in place using software to vet potential buyers.
  • Three ways business brokers get burned out and how automation can help.
  • How Max's attitude about the value of rest for productive work has changed.
  • The way automation can free up staff for more key roles and treating clients better.
  • Attachment sellers have to their businesses and how important the right buyer is.
  • The need to market a business widely for finding the right buyer.
  • How much emotional bandwidth is needed to take a buyer through the selling process.
  • The role of reflection in helping Max come up with his automation systems.
  • Evolution in the business; prospecting for new sellers, data analytics, and more.
  • Max's ideas around whether a concrete business plan is necessary for success.

Max Friar on LinkedIn
Max Friar Email
Calder Capital
Infusionsoft
Alex Drost LinkedIn
Branch Out Podcast LinkedIn
Connection Builders LinkedIn

Have thoughts or comments? We want to hear from you. [email protected]

[INTRODUCTION]

[00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast. Helping middle-market professionals connect, grow, and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections. 

[00:00:20] AD: Hey, everyone. Welcome to the Branch Out Podcast. I'm your host, Alex Dros. Today's guest is Max Friar, Managing Partner at Calder Capital, a full-service M&A firm, focused on lower middle-market businesses within the Midwest. Max shares how he and his team leverage systems and automation to improve both client outcomes as well as career satisfaction. I hope you all enjoy.

[00:00:43] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network. We are on LinkedIn. Search for Connection Builders. 

[INTERVIEW]

[00:00:51] AD: Max, welcome to the Branch Out podcast. Excited to have you on here today.

[00:00:53] MF: I'm happy to be here. Thank you.

[00:00:55] AD: So, talking to our listeners for a minute, I invited Max here today because we were catching up a few weeks ago and part of the conversation was talking about 2020, the year that was so challenging for all of us as we sit here in the beginning of 2021. Now, I think we can all look back and see the disruption, the challenge and the change and everything that came out of that. Max shared with me that his firm was successful in closing 40 transactions and brokering the the transaction, the sale of a business 40 times in a calendar year, which I think is very impressive given just in general, to accomplish that. But when you factor in the dynamics of 2020, and everything else, the disruption, the marketplace that came out of that.

So, as Max and I were talking about this and some of the success they had it, they said, “Well, Max, how do you do it? How did you accomplish this? What was really the underlying success that allowed your firm to achieve this in a year like that?” And the answer was leveraging systems and processes and having a real strategic approach to how you're doing things. I wanted Max to come on here and just share some of his thoughts and how he and his firm looked at that and some of the mindsets that went on there. So, with that said, Max, maybe you just share high level, your way of thinking around that, and then we'll peel that back a little bit. 

[00:02:09] MF: Sure. Thank you for the opportunity. I really appreciate it. I'll say two things before I go back to kind of the beginning. One is that in 2019, we did 23 transactions and that was our record. So, we far shattered it in 2020. We're going to talk a lot about systems and automation here and how that's been a game changer for us and we'll continue to be, but I still want to make sure I give credit to our team because we do have a phenomenal team. And without good people who are integrity and are driven, we'd never be able to close one deal.

So certainly, the team is a huge factor here. I'll back up now to the beginning. I'm 40 years old now. I started in mergers and acquisitions at 25. I worked at two firms before I started my own in 2013. The two firms I worked at, generally did a very good job and cared deeply about their clients. There is a lot of inefficiency about selling a business and I'll compare it to the real estate industry. When you are going to sell your home, it's publicly advertised on the internet, there's a sign out front, there's a kind of a clear call to action in terms of who to get into, and there's a generally pretty well understood process for going about the financing and the purchase of that home.

When you're selling a business, almost all of that stuff is very amorphous and unclear. It's confidential, you don't know businesses are for sale, most often folks don't know how to value them. They don't know how to get financing, they don't know how to go through the purchasing process. So inherently, there's a lot of inefficiency, there's a lot of paperwork, and there's a kind of a lot of time spent with education. So, when I was working for these other firms prior to 2013, I noticed that a lot of these things that were inherently inefficient, like getting non-disclosure signed for every single buyer inquiry, collecting information about each buyer that was interested, so that we could share it with our client, sending out confidential materials about our clients, the sellers to these buyers, and then the kind of ensuing follow up that happened. All was done very manually. That can be fine, because there's that there's a personal touch to all of that. But you're limited when those things are done manually to the hours that are in a day.

So, when I started my own business in 2013, I reflected and I think that's a lot of things. I know reflection is something I see a lot of business owners not spend enough time with. They kind of go from one thing to the next, their mind's racing and it ends up burning them out. Two things drove me when I started Calder in 2013. One was let's reflect on places I would like to do things differently than my predecessors and the folks I worked with. And I think secondly, I want it to be kind of in tune with my own energy because I knew that while I had a ton of energy and I definitely am wired as a workaholic, I knew that if I did everything in a manual way, I would probably be limited to three or four clients at a time and I would never be able to grow my business.

So, one of the first things I did when I started was, I looked at softwares that could automate certain administrative tasks. And the specific ones I looked at that time, were Office Autopilot, I'm not sure that it exists anymore. It probably does. And Infusionsoft and I ended up going with Infusionsoft, which is a CRM that has the potential to automate sequences of tasks embedded into it. I don't want to get too deeply into the weeds. So practically, what does that mean?

For every client that we have, when we put them out to market, buyers are going to inquire. The buyers might come from a website like BizBuySell, they might come from our website, they might call in, they might respond to email blasts. Every single buyer has to sign a nondisclosure agreement. Every single buyer has to answer at least very basic questions about who they are, how much capital they have, why they're interested in that specific opportunity, what their timeframe is. And then we also like to ask some other questions just in general to try to kind of more qualify what their interests are, in case, they end up passing on the opportunity that they inquired about.

So, instead of doing all those things manually, we now have software in place to get their NDA signed electronically. If they don't respond to the first email about doing that, they get two follow ups. Once they sign the NDA, they're, they're automatically routed to a page that asks them to fill out a questionnaire. Again, if they don't fill out the questionnaire, they're automatically reminded to do that. Once we get the NDA and their questions, we have all that we kind of need to go to our client to say, “Hey, do you want to approve the spire?” That approval process to our client is automated. They get an automatic email asking them to approve. Once they approve, we have another process in place where the confidential materials will go out to that particular buyer from the project manager, the project manager will also leave a voicemail on their cell phone that's been prerecorded, and then we'll also get two more follow up emails, reminding them to get back to us if they continue to be interested.

I know that was that was very detailed and perhaps more information than your audience wants to know. But what's the big picture? The big picture is that all of that has been done to perhaps hundreds of buyers per week, to get to the 10% of buyers that are serious and interested in those individual opportunities, and it's taken only one person a part time effort to do that. As opposed to what still exists today in our industry, that would have taken a team of three to six people to handle all of those things in a manual way. Not only are we able to handle more projects process more buyers, but our staff is kind of less burned out because they're not spending their time sending out NDAs, wondering whether they got the NDA back wondering whether they filed the NDA, sending out the CIM, keeping it an Excel spreadsheet of all the buyers they have to contact for getting phone numbers, for getting emails, having their voicemails filled up. These are all things I saw before that led people to burn out of, I guess what I would say is a very difficult industry to survive and because we are commissioned based.

[00:08:25] AD: I like hearing what you're saying there, and I'm smiling as you're sharing some of this. For our listeners to know that my previous role was in investment banking, and I very much understand the process in speaking and the language investment banking, you're sending out the NDAs, starting to sending the tease, you're finding out there's interest, then you're sending the NDA. Once the NDA is approved, you get buyer approval, now you're sending the CIM out, the confidential information memorandum. And again, you're following up, you're running your process, you're figuring out who's interested, you're running a deadline against a process letter on when you're looking for bids, and all of this is very process driven, right? I very much believe that those that work in the business transaction world, investment banking, business brokerage, anytime you're working through a transactional process, you should be an excellent project manager. Because at the end of the day, you're really just managing a process.

Now, what I want to address in a couple things you said reflecting was really important, and it helped with burnout. We're going to come back to those two topics, because I really want to get into those in a moment. But you also had mentioned that some of the personal aspect of this and the way, that there's an easy way of thinking that when it comes to automating stuff, well, you're losing all the personalization, and yes and no, what I would argue and I'm just sitting reflecting from my time in investment banking, the process of taking a CIM, watermarking it, sending it to somebody and then marking inside of a tracking file when I sent it, that has nothing to do with being personal. Nothing at all, like, that is a laborious process that needs to get done and the idea of it being a manual process which in my career very much was a long, slow manual process. That is a lot of waste of time. And you touched on so many aspects there that you can automate even just the simple follow ups and reminders.

So, I think that the reason I say all this is to our listeners, and just as you're thinking about why systems matter, well, if designed right, if thought through right, and if built properly, especially leveraging technology that's available today, you can create a lot of efficiencies and a lot of improvements in your process and workflow in simple areas. And again, Max, you have a very complex web of this build. But think about it, I'm sure you start with one small part of it, right? Just simply, okay, how do we just get buyers to give us the information we need, where they type it into a form that automatically goes into our database, so that I don't have to ask for it and then go and fill that in myself. Little things like that. I think it's a smart way to look at that. But let's actually take the conversation here down the path of let's start with burnout, because this is something you and I have talked about before, where what all of this is really done is help prevent burnout for yourself and your team. Do you want to share some thoughts around that?

[00:11:09] MF: Yeah, three things came to mind. So, kind of what's endemic in our industry, which you'll hear what you'll hear is the biggest complaint from business buyers, is that brokers don't respond. It's kind of like, “Well, wait a minute, that doesn't even make sense. They're trying to sell a business, right? Why would they not get back to me?” But I think to your point about burnout, it's because that kind of average business broker puts something out on BizBuySell, they get 10 inquiries, because they have to do so much manual work in terms of sending phone calls, sending out NDAs, they quickly get overwhelmed.

In fact, it's very common. If you look on BizBuySell, you'll see some brokers will even put in their advertisements. They'll say, “Oh, I'm very backed up and it might be two to three days before I get back to you.” Right? So, that's that's the first point. The second point I'll say is, what is the business broker’s role? It is the fiduciary of the client, which is our seller. The role we take on is to bring our clients the best fit for the continuity of their business, the highest price and the best deal structure. That's the bottom line. How is our client able to know that we've done our job unless we show them the market, which means showing them multiple offers, having them have conversations with 10, 15, 20 buyers? We can't do that unless we market broadly. What inhibits business brokers from wanting or being able to execute on that fiduciary role is the fact that they can't handle the response from broad confidential marketing. The other thing I'll say is 90% of buyers that inquire about a business for sale aren't going to do anything.

So, when it comes down to being personal, there's no good reason to be personally involved in those rote administrative front end tasks. It's obviously, if a buyer is willing to go through those steps, willing to sign the NDA, answer the questions, get the materials, follow up and say, “I'm interested”, of course, we're going to start making it a personal relationship at that point. But I would argue that unless you're able to broadly market, you cannot actually be a fiduciary for your client, and that is something that's also driven need to develop these systems here. On the topic of burnout. I think in general, you could say, I am a person that's sensitive to my energy levels. I'm a big fan of taking naps. I am not effective at all when I'm tired. And so, when I get tired, I say, “Why should I try to plow through this and be inefficient? I should just rest.” That's on a personal note.

[00:13:46] AD: I wish more people thought that way. I think those of us and I've certainly found myself in a mindset that I can function tired, that's not true. That's not true.

[00:13:55] MF: What's your definition of functioning? Exactly. Yeah, can I sit and I call it the browser, it's more like the browser clicking. You're going through browser windows, and you're like, “I am absolutely not accomplishing anything right now. I need to go on a walk or I need to lay down for 15 minutes and take a nap.” And learning to take a 15-minute nap was a life changing thing for me. I didn't learn how to do it until I was in my 30s. I used to just push through, because I felt like that's what I should be doing. I no longer push through. I work when I have energy and I don't work when I don't have energy.

So, applying this to the grander scheme of business owners out there. We see and this is an industry where we're selling companies, and largely the motivation is retirement, which is just code for I'm exhausted and you generally see younger business owners. I would say those are the folks that make their 40s and 50s. They generally get burned out when they haven't automated and when they've kept themselves involved in every step of the process, which is really interesting because usually the company's smaller, it's less profitable and therefore less valuable. And they are harder to replace, because they do everything. So, I mean, the things we're talking about here, if it's within a business owner to be able to do it is going to help them step back, help them make more money, help them grow their business and help it be more marketable when they go to sell. Ultimately, they'll be less burned out, right?

[00:15:24] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, a connection builders podcast.

[00:15:34] AD: I don't want to speak for everyone. But I think this is a pretty fair statement to make that most of us when faced with doing some kind of repetitive task over a long duration of time, become burnt out on doing that task. When you do the same thing again, and again, and again, we'll use the easy example here of running a transaction process on selling a business. If you are sending out an NDA tracking, getting the signatures back and whatever the process that you have behind that, if your process of just sending again and again and again, that starts to become just work tasks, busy work, things that you have to get done. That's not driving value, that's not really moving things forward. That's where I think the idea comes from, “Okay, well look for stuff that's repetitive and low value add, and then look for ways to automate it.” What I think many people miss, because I think you've talked to most people, especially anyone that is in the business owner world or even our our listener base, being a professional service provider, you know the importance of OK. Let's automate something.

You can say that, but what I think gets missed behind all of that is, the big reason is yes, there's some efficiencies. Yes, there are scalability, all of those things are important. But underlying all of that is really saving you and saving your energy. And maybe not just you personally, but those in your firm, whoever has to do that task, and your unlocking people to put them in the position where the time energy, whether yourself or others on your team are spending time doing the right things. This is something you actually mentioned to me on a previous call here, you had said that one of the big byproducts that you didn't necessarily expect when you started building out the systemized approach to your business was that you and your team members really are able to spend significantly more time with the clients, your clients that are the business owners that are selling, working them through the process. Do you want to just share some thoughts that you've seen on that?

[00:17:32] MF: Sure, yes, of course, I'll say a couple of points on that, too. So, when I started, and I haven’t used this word, and am remiss to use it, but it was really out of selfish reasons. I mean, I didn't want to do those things. Now, where that's blossomed, has been the system that I created for myself, originally, now has extended to 10 other project managers, and they have more energy, and they have more time to focus on their clients, because more or less qualified buyers are now served up to them, which they can then interact with and introduce to our client at a greater scale than if we were doing everything on a manual basis. That has also resulted in them being able to take on more projects.

So, our average advisor now can easily take on four to five sell side projects at a time, some can take on more, and what does that done? That's allowed them more opportunities to make more money. That's what everybody wants, right? So, they have more freedom, more economic opportunities, and they're serving their client in a more meaningful way, because they're engaging them with real buyer conversations day one that we're on the market.

[00:18:45] AD: What else, I think, is interesting. I’m thinking aloud here a little bit. At the end of the day, the business transaction process, and again, I can speak easily to this, given my previous career, a huge chunk of this is the emotional handholding that goes into dealing with the client. Because ultimately selling your business, is you're selling your baby, right? You're selling something that you've created and for most people going through that process, it is the single largest transaction and transformational wealth creation event that will happen in their life and potentially the impacting not only them, but also future generations. So, this is a very important, very critical part, requires all sorts of hand holding, right?

[00:19:28] MF: Having sold a business personally myself, there's absolutely – I’m not a psychologist, so I might butcher the words, but there is a detachment and there is a separation process. You almost can't predict when you start down the road of selling, to when you get towards the closing process. It's hard to predict how you're going to feel through that process. But there is going to be a variety of trauma and some separation anxiety there. That is where it comes down to the right fit. A lot of people, when they talk about selling a business, it's all about valuation and deal structure and opportunities for growth and KPIs and all this kind of stuff. And that stuff is not diminishing importance that obviously, that's gigantic. Most of our clients who are kind of in that 1 to $15 million range, these are family businesses, where perhaps it's second or third or fourth generation, and they've reached a point where there's no natural successor.

So, many of the employees have been there for 20, 30, 40 years, and whoever buys that company, the fit for the continuity, the fit for kind of respecting the culture, and the owner’s legacy, is perhaps more important than the price or the terms. I'm not going to say the price for term but I'm saying, for many of our clients that being able to sleep at night, knowing they sold to the right person, and it's a feeling, it's an instinctual primal feeling they get after they meet, and they talk to these buyers. They feel from a business culture standpoint, from a moral standpoint, they have met someone that is aligned with them.

I'm going to go back to the fiduciary thing, unless you can get out to 100 buyers and get the 10 that are willing to have that conversation. How do you know you've met that right one? How do you know? So, what keeps me up at night is thinking we can't. There's going to be something that prevents us from showing the market to our clients, much less so than the past. But I feel very strongly about our clients getting to meet many different buyers. I'll contrast that against the industry. The industry standard still seems to be signed and engaged in agreement for a year, 12 months. So, you're locked up with a business broker, M&A firm for 12 months, and pay a big retainer up front. And maybe they'll do something for you and maybe they won't. Too often, I've heard, it's been, “Well, after six months, they brought me one buyer. It wasn't ideal.” But the kind of message was I don't know when we're going to have the next buyer come through. To me, that's very sad. Because if you really had a chance to understand all the potential parties that were out there that could be interested, is that the best fit? So, that's a fear inside of me and I don't want. I'm not saying that conversations don't go like that from time to time, because some businesses are less marketable than others. But that fit and that showing the market and showing the opportunities to our clients is what drives me.

[00:22:42] AD: Well, I would I would also add in there, and I'm making the assumption here, but you tell me if I'm right, managing that and, again, they can reflect on my time in working with clients, when you you are taking them through that emotional roller coaster and there was a lot of education and a lot of hand holding that goes in the process, that takes time from you, which timing are most limited assets. So, I already know off the bat that some of this automation, some of the systems that you have created is giving you more time so you or others in your team have more time. But I would also argue that you have potentially an increased level of emotional bandwidth to deal with it. Because holding anyone's hand through an emotional roller coaster inevitably takes you through a similar roller coaster with them. When you're dealing with a worked-up client or a frustrated client or an overly excited client, whatever it might be, you have to use your own emotional energy. And if your time, if you're dreading and thinking in the back your mind, “Okay, can you stop talking here? I need to get back to work so I can get these NDAs out, so you can stop complaining about whatever you're complaining about.” I've been in that situation. I can see where you're frustrated with the client, because you have all this other work that still needs to get done. You've eliminated some of that off your plate, so you just frankly have more energy and time to invest in that client to make sure you have success.

[00:24:03] MF: We believe here that in meeting with the clients, personally, walking through these offers, walking through the pros and cons of parties is hugely important. And you're right, I mean, if we had to spend 50% of our time researching to try to find buyers, that would be 50% less time we could spend interacting with our clients. And I would say that's on a project management basis. I would say, if you look at my personal progression, I mean, when I started, I had to find the clients, do the materials and run all the projects. Now, I'm at a point where my primary thought is still well how to bring in new clients that still does drive – so I still have the sales head on. But increasingly, it's how to grow the team and how to bring the system to other people that are interested in becoming a mergers and acquisitions advisor, and knowing, having a lot of confidence based on our history here that once we bring them in, we have a very low chance of losing them and it's nothing nefarious. The system works. They spend more of their time doing things that feel rewarding and less time doing things that feel like they want to stab their eyes out.

[00:25:11] AD: Well said. Your right, and all it's doing is it's creating a better environment for everybody, which is giving you better client service. So, let's now shift into the reflection aspect of this. So, we've talked about you establish the systems, we know some of the benefits that have gone into it and some of the thinking behind it. Let's talk about the the reflection, which as you said right before we jumped on recording here, reflection, some of the key to success in designing a system to begin with. Can you share some some of your thoughts and your own experience in that?

[00:25:41] MF: Sure. Well, obviously, I'll restate the beginning, I'm blessed with very much despising repeated administrative work. So, it was almost not even more of a reflection as of like, how am I going to do this, when I started, if I have to get all these things done. I didn't have the capital, I didn't want to go get a big office, I didn't want to hire someone right away. So, I was looking to save money and also time. So, that's what started it originally. I think, when you think about reflection, I think there's two things to think about what to reflect on, and when to do it, right? As a business owner, you can quickly get wrapped up in working 80 hours a week, and your head is so filled with your business that you don't have time to really reflect, you're just thinking about the next fire to put out. You compound that with a spouse and family and that's the other part of your time. So, you have sleep and family and work and that's all you have, you don't have time for reflection.

So certainly, when things don't go well, I mean, when something doesn't go well, that's a key, a need to reflect. So, what would that be? A client project that just didn't go as we expected, right? I can't really say, losing losing a staff member, because I've been very blessed that we've not lost anyone that I didn't want to lose in seven and a half years. So, I'm sure that time will come. It's inevitable. But I think it's when a process doesn't go well, when people are angry at each other because internally and I'll give you an example. Just pull the sheets back. So, when we go to launch a new product to market, there's a lot of things that have to happen in terms of the teaser has to be approved, it has to be right has to be put on our site, has to be put in other sites, or has or has to be tied to our CRM, has the email blast scheduled, maybe the owner is going to approve the buyers, maybe they're not. I mean, it's a lot of different stuff that goes in and we have a tendency, like a lot of people to say, “Hey, we're doing this tomorrow, right? Like we're launched tomorrow.” But there's hours of things that have to happen between then and launch.

So, that has caused me to reflect and think about how could we process orient all of the steps, and then reduce the number of people involved in those to make it more streamlined, right? A couple of things I'll say on this, I love the outdoors, I like to get away, I like to travel. So, although I've been not very good at doing it alone, and I wish I had the quote with me right now. But I'm reading a book called The Last Days at Night. It's about the feud between Westinghouse and Edison and the creation of electricity. I'm not a huge reader, but it's a very interesting book. I think Nikola Tesla comes into the books, because he is, I think this crazy, weird, creative genius, and he's he's a huge loner, and there's a quote from him in there that almost says like, “True innovation is accomplished alone.” And I think it really ties into reflection.

So, I've been trying to make a point to just go away from Grand Rapids, anywhere. It could be, Florida, it could be the UP, and just spend a couple of days just in my own head without distraction. I think that's very key. I think that, again, the business owners, I see that we work with that burnout are the ones that never do that. They're the ones that say, “I haven't had a vacation in five years.” So, I think getting away to reflect is good and what has that resulted in? 

So, we started with the automation for client campaigns. We have a seller as a client, we have buyers coming in, how do we process everybody so that we're responsive to buyers? We're getting all the documentation signed? And we're getting the necessary information to decide whether we send out materials or who to work with? Where have we taken that? We've taken those, the automation to prospecting campaigns. So now, we're out there prospecting for new clients, new sellers. And so, we've created email campaigns and research campaigns to reach out to business owners in an automated way that has a two-year drip sequence while we're touching base with these people. Where have we taken it since then? We are taking in by side clients too.

So, for example, private equity firms and family offices, will now hire us to say, “We want electronics manufacturers on the East Coast, from one to 5 million EBITDA.” We are now guaranteeing them three leads a month and if we don't find three qualified leads for them, they don't have to pay us. Why are we able to do that? Because we have the systems in place that take some of that work off of our back, and the last thing I'll say is probably it's going to be one of the best decisions I've ever made. We decided to hire a data analytics firm because we've been doing all these campaigns, largely based on emails, link clicking. We hired a data analytics firm and they have the analyzed over two million emails that we've sent out over the past two years for the best times of day, best subject lines, time from send to click, the number of emails we have to send before we get one click of one open. So, they're helping us kind of determine all of these – we have a lot of assumptions we went into, like when to send the emails, what to put in the subject lines, how long to make them, how many questions to ask, all these different things and now we're essentially analyzing our assumptions. What's interesting is, they gave us our first report, about two weeks ago, and we instantly made – I mean, they gave us key recommendations. We instantly implemented those. Two weeks later, we're already seeing a difference.

We're already seeing higher engagement and higher response and it’s very simple things. For example, I'll give your listeners some genuine hacks here. We've learned that the best time to send emails is Tuesday through Friday, 11 AM to 1 PM. In terms of fastest, like send to open and response. We used to do a Saturday email. We've stopped that. It's worthless to do that. We've also learned that putting the company's name in the subject line is a clear advantage over the individuals name or just generic emails. So, just little hacks like that have caused us to go change all of our campaign emails to just adhere to these new these new findings. Again, that's coming back with theme of reflection. It's like, “Okay, now we're going to pay somebody to go reflect for us.”

[00:31:43] AD: Yeah. At the end of the day, what it all comes down to is you have to step back and say, “Where is there an opportunity for improvement?” And whether that being your example, early on of you just simply didn't want to do busy work, or you step back and say, “What didn't go well? Where did we have a client expectation fall short? Or where did the process go sideways?” Something that you look for improvement, or in the case of your emails, “Well, hey, this is working. But I think we can do it better. I think there's an opportunity to look at it and do it better.” In the reflection, I think there are two sides of this to look at and one side being the true finding space to reflect, I believe that can be a shortest just carving out 15 minutes of white space to think on something that's not going well, or finding time to get away for 3, 5, 7 days where you can go away and you can really detach from things. I think both are very important. But on top of that, there's also the ability to just simply create an almost a habit or a system of reflecting when you step back and say, “Okay, what's going well? What's not? Where can we find improvements?”

I'll share an example for us and this is relevant. Max and I were talking a little bit about the podcast before we jumped on a record here. And one of the best things I've done in our process of producing this show is every 15 or so episodes, I sit down and I do my own reflection document. I answer a series of questions, what went well, what would I improve, what would I do different for the next chunk of episodes? And really write those things out. The reality is, there's one other person here that reads it, and we kind of use it to talk about, but it's written for myself more than anything. It's not going anywhere. It's not something that was assigned to me to do or something I have to get done. It's simply a process of, “Hey, when I put all that down in writing, what I actually do is I get it down, when I get my thoughts down, and I feel good about them, I'll print it out.” And I leave it in a folder and I have a folder that I run on kind of all my podcasts paperwork out of. That paper is always in there.

So, I reread that, a bunch, before most recordings and then I get another 10, 15 episodes down the road, I just redid it the other day. I went through the whole process again and printed it out again and reread it again. And it's keeping those things top of mind for myself so that I'm identifying opportunities for improvement, and then actually building it, and whether that be systematizing workflows and automation, or that being just simply saying, “Hey, if I did this a little bit different next time, it would make a big difference.” That's all about the reflection. If you don't find the space to actually do that and put the work into it, you're never going to identify those opportunities for improvement.

[00:34:11] MF: I think what you're saying is key. It's the whole Napoleon Hill, like make your plan and put it next to bed, right? Just looking at it periodically, plants the seeds. Those things tend to manifest. It's very interesting. 

[00:34:25] AD: I could not agree more.

[00:34:27] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle market professionals.

[00:34:36] AD: Max, this has been a great conversation. Let me give a little bit of a recap to our listeners here. Starting kind of top to bottom, as I kicked off the show here, your firm was successful in closing 40 transactions in the year that was 2020 despite all of the challenges and that was a massive growth year over year for your organization. The success behind a lot of that has been the systems that you've built and this has been something that you worked on for years, it's certainly not something that you're able to just flip up overnight. But you stopped and said to yourself, “I've worked in other places. I've seen what goes well, what doesn't go well. And I know what I personally like, I know what my energy is good at, I know the type of work that I want to do. But I also know where the sticking points are and where there's opportunity to add the most value to my clients.” And you said, “Okay, well, if I know all those things, how do I start to automate and systematize those processes?” Spending the time to identify those, find the technology or the right approach to systematize those and then really execute on that.

What that's been able to do for you, it really is, one, it's allowed you to create more efficiencies and a more scalable business on your end. But more importantly, I think it's prevented burnout for yourself and for your team members. And in that process of preventing the burnout, it really has allowed you to have more energy into your business, enjoy what you're doing more. Same goes for your team members, you have a higher retention, you have more engaged employees, you have people that really want to be there and be part of a team because of it, and then what's the byproduct of that? Better customer service, better client service, having more energy to be able to put into working with your team. I think at some level, that idea of thinking and putting in that energy and building out a business or a platform that is focused on having systems and having some automation that really makes sure that people are spending their time in their highest and best use, in some ways becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, right? It allows that kind of continuous growth. But I digress on that.

Now, the last point we kind of dove into was around reflection, the need to find time to reflect, the need to find space to reflect and looking for what went well, what didn't go well, where are the challenges, where are the things that maybe drain your energy, or that you're not enjoying doing or what's bogging you down, what's taking your time, what's burning you out? You have to find time for that. You have to really make space for that reflection. That can be either a short period of time or that can be, if you have the ability, get away, spend some time away. But know that until you find that time to reflect and make a plan, and then really bring those changes, nothing's going to get better. So, underlying all of this is, you have to reflect if you want to be successful. Max, anything, I missed around that?

[00:37:26] MF: I don't think I could have said that recap better. I have two more quick comments. I think maybe more generally speaking, so that people can have a sense of like, I think if you see me, you see like a CPA or like an attorney. I am absolutely wired like an entrepreneur. And so, at 40, my advice based on my experience for maybe some of the younger folks that are in their 20s, or whatnot, could be listeners, I had a problem with getting bored after two or three years, with everything I got involved in. So, when I kind of really got the entrepreneurial juices flowing in my late 20s, it was very easy for me to get distracted, to start other things, join other things. What I've realized is that it takes your energy to do that and there's a lot of discussion, and I got very interested in passive income when I was younger.

I am very skeptical of the idea of of truly passive income. I think most things you get involved with, you have to touch and spend some time off. So, I decided, in my mid to late 30s, to try to reinvent within my own business. And it's been very rewarding, because I can say that I've had more fun, just working the M&A business in the past couple of years than anything I've ever done.

The last thing I'll say is, there's a lot of discussion about making long term detailed plans out there, and making business plans. I just want to set everyone at ease that I never had a business plan. I do have a plan now, it's one page, and it generally doesn't go out more than six months. That's because I do believe in setting aside that space for experimentation and innovation. And so, I just want to set people at ease that that isn't necessary, I think to do well.

[00:39:10] AD: I couldn't agree with you more on that. So, call to action for our listeners this week. And I'm going to play into that a little bit of what you just said there, Max. For our listeners, sometime in the next seven days, I want to challenge you to find 30 minutes of space. I know that's a lot. I know we all have a lot going on. But just try to find 30 minutes, maybe sitting down over a cup of coffee or over one of your meals and write down to yourself what are three things that you really enjoy about your day to day work, your day to day job today, and three things you wish you didn't have to deal with. I say things, not people, that's a totally different topic for a totally different podcast. Tasks, things, functions that you have to do in your job. Write down three you like, three you don't like, and the purpose of that is saying I know what I enjoy, so find ways to spend more time there. I know three things I don't enjoy, now you have something to start thinking about, how can I eliminate that? How can I remove that?

The simple answer may be there is no way to eliminate that in the short run, but it does start to bring some awareness and some clarity to what is your long-term goal to get rid of, and until you start that process you can't move forward on it. So, again, find 30 minutes of space, write down three things that you enjoy, three tasks that you enjoy doing in your day to day job, and three things that you do not enjoy. With that said, Max, I really appreciate you coming on here. For our listeners, how can they get in touch with you?

[00:39:10] MF: Probably the best way is going to be just old school email. My email is [email protected]. Same as our website, caldergr.com. That's probably the fastest way. LinkedIn, I'm also on LinkedIn. I try to stay fairly active although, quite frankly, I do use someone to help me with LinkedIn, because it's just kind of overwhelming to keep up with the connection requests and messaging and that type of thing, but I do believe it's important to have a presence on LinkedIn.

[00:40:57] AD: Awesome, we'll make sure to link that in the show notes below. Max, again, I appreciate you coming on here. I really enjoyed the conversation today and looking forward to doing it again sometime soon.

[00:41:06] MF: Yeah, likewise. Thank you very much.

[END OF INTERVIEW]

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